6 Ways Social Media Has Changed My Special Needs Family
As a history buff, I often think about what life for my son and me would’ve been like 100, 300 or 600 years ago. Children born with disabilities might have been shunned or forced into institutions instead of being allowed to live out their life with their families. Typical children might have had little if any exposure to children who were different than them.
Because of this, I can’t help but feel extremely grateful my son was born in this time period. It’s a time when medical advances are changing the lives of children like him every day, and also when society is actively accepting and embracing children and adults with special needs.
What provoked the shift? Mainstreaming children in schools has certainly helped. Thank God the time of hiding children with differences in a back room is over. But I believe technology was the real impetus for prompting change and progress.
Before the existence of the Internet, special needs families and children led vastly different lives, one that most of us could not grasp no matter how hard we tried. But because of social media, we’re reminded daily about others around us. These families share similar stories as well as different ones. That feeling of connection is empowering, and the feeling of empowerment turns into acceptance.
Here are six ways social media has changed the lives of my family. How has it changed yours?
1. There’s more visibility of various disabilities.
You might not realize the amount of diagnoses and degrees of disabilities out there until you’ve joined various website communities. Websites like The Mighty build awareness for their readers. They also educate and inspire readers to develop empathy. I belong to nearly 20 different Facebook groups pertaining to children and adults with disabilities. Because of this, my news feed is flooded daily with pictures of children who are similar and different to my own son. Not only am I learning from this, but seeing their pictures every day reminds me that only walls and miles separate us. I have my own community just a click away.
2. My questions are answered immediately.
Although most special needs parents aren’t doctors, many of them still have a lot of knowledge and experience. I can post a question about feeding tubes or seizures and within 20 minutes, I’ll have 20 responses. I’m rational and realize not everyone’s responses are going to be good ones, but I read through them and almost always find helpful information. This doesn’t mean I don’t take my child to the doctor or ask the doctor questions when necessary, but sometimes it’s nice to ask questions other parents can answer, such as, “How did you know when your child was ready to have their G-tube removed?”
3. I receive support from other parents.
I have a relationship with about five women I’ve never met. When one of us posts about having a bad day, we usually message one another. In the message we assure one another and hand out compliments on the job we’re doing. When I post pictures of something amazing my son has done, I have hundreds of cheerleaders typing in their praises for the both of us. It’s hard knowing my son might never make “real” friends due to his disabilities. This makes my son’s online supporters the next best thing.
4. Reading other people’s stories keeps me grounded and grateful.
Please don’t mistake this as feeling an emotional benefit to someone else’s misfortune. That’s not what it is. Instead, it’s an ability to look outside your box and realize you’re not the only one in the world where things didn’t come out picture perfect. This keeps me grounded. I can sit and sulk that my son can’t walk, talk, use the toilet or chew food. Or I can remind myself that he can crawl, drink from a cup and reach his hands out when he wants me to pick him up. Some parents are still waiting and hoping that one day their child will learn those skills. And therefore, I remain grateful for the abilities he does have instead of dwelling on the ones he doesn’t.
5. I know I’m not alone.
Back when I mentioned life for a special needs family hundreds of years ago, I think loneliness had to be the single most difficult factor. As humans, we’re social creatures. We rely on relationships with others. When we feel misunderstood, rejected, ashamed or isolated, it’s difficult to enjoy what life has to offer. The benefit of being part of many online communities is feeling understood, accepted, proud and included. For many special needs families, acquiring these four benefits can only be reached through social media. It’s truly their lifeline.
6. It can be a great source of guidance.
Whether it’s reading about how to store medical supplies or when to contact a professional for advice, the amount of guidance available on social media is limitless. Although you have to be careful it doesn’t become a time-sucker, if you stay focused, you can get the advice you need and learn essential time-saving tools. Additionally, there are often suggestions about things you can purchase to make all of your lives easier and better. The best thing? This advice is free.
For me, staying positive and remaining focused on the things my son can do is the one thing I fight for the most each day. Social media tears down the barriers that would exist without it. I urge every person in America to join at least three special needs online communities. It prevents us from staying in our bubbles and allows all communities to cross over and share our worlds with one another. This is essential to fostering our human bond as well as nurturing our humanity.
The Mighty is asking the following: Tell a story about a time someone helped you and/or your child when you needed it most. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.